AP NEWS

Putnam City school district offers child care to teachers

March 18, 2019
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In a Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019 photo, Putnam City West High School teacher Conner Andrulonis, right, takes papers from his daughter Isabel Andrulonis, 3, as preschool teacher Sue Bishop talks about Isabel's day at Putnam City Smart Start Childcare in Warr Acres, Okla. Conner Andrulonis was also picking up his six-month-old daughter Lillian Andrulonis, in the carrier in the foreground. (Nate Billings/The Oklahoman via AP)

WARR ACRES, Okla. (AP) — Conner Andrulonis likes to joke that he wouldn’t leave his teaching job in the Putnam City school district even if he “got mad at everybody.”

That’s because Andrulonis, 34, a math teacher at Putnam City West High School, likes the way the district takes care of his daughters Isabel, 3, and Lillian, 7 months, while he’s at work.

“I’m happy where I’m at without this, but this is going to keep teachers here,” he said of the district-operated child care offered to teachers. “It’s going to keep me here.”

Putnam City Schools is the only district in the Oklahoma City metro area and one of the few in the state to provide child care for teachers, a benefit that saves Andrulonis and others like him an estimated $4,000 annually and delivers peace of mind.

The third-year teacher pays the district $150 a week to care for Lillian and $125 a week to care for Isabel. It’s a bargain compared to the $900 a month he paid a day care provider for Isabel.

“When your kids love to be here, it’s easy not to worry about them during the day,” he said recently to The Oklahoman. “I’m so thankful for this place.”

Longtime district employee Kelly Suchy oversees the center, which serves about 75 kids that range in age from 6 months to 3 years old. Most of the kids are teachers’ children. The center also cares for the children of teen parents and those who attend the district’s adult literacy program.

“We’re a child development center, so we’re definitely geared toward school readiness,” she said. “It’s not just babysitting. It’s actually child development, and we look at every child and where they are and try to bring those kids along in literacy and social-emotional, in all of the areas that we feel will benefit them when they go to school. That’s our goal for the center.”

Suchy, who went to school in the district, saw a need to serve teachers with little kids and had the space to do so.

“We do things to try to retain teachers,” she said. “We wanted a way to entice them because we do a great job of getting good teachers and training them. Some do leave for other districts, so we wanted our teachers to have a reason to stay that would benefit them in other ways.”

Three years later, the program’s popularity has resulted in a waiting list. This year, the district added child care rooms for infants and 1-year-olds at an elementary school north of the center. Plans call for adding care for 2-year-olds in the 2019-20 school year and 3-year-olds in the 2020-21 school year.

Cari Warfle, a 38-year-old mother of three who teaches history at Putnam City High School, has been bringing her 2-year-old daughter Ava to the district’s child development center since she was an infant.

“I love that this is so accessible,” she said. “I love that I can come in and out and if I surprise them, they’re never surprised. I can pop in and I don’t feel like they’re hiding anything. I don’t feel stressed out leaving her with them because I know that people are coming in and checking and maintaining and making sure that everything’s running smoothly.”

Warfle relied on home day care for her other two children before they were old enough to attend school in the Putnam City district.

“I loved her, however, I’ve seen Ava progress, like with her alphabet and her counting and different things like that,” she said. “I like the socialization aspect of it versus the in-home day care. This group has grown and fluctuated, so she’s very social compared to my other kids.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com